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Pascal Marzan / John Russell: Translations

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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The magic of Pascal Marzan and John Russell's Translations lies in the miraculous pliability of strings. The two guitarists are dangerously adventurous, although one is slightly more programmatic than the other; still, both artists test the elasticity of their nylon and steel strings to the maximum extent. It is almost certain, however, that Marzan and Russell did not set out to make this album as edgy as it turned out; too much of it sounds unscripted, with music stuttering at first, then billowing out and swelling, as the guitarists get underway. It ebbs and flows and swirls again, as fragments of started melodies collide almost like the burgeoning currents at the mouths of musical estuaries. The breathtaking sonic vistas that break make drowning in their ensuing harmonies a happy thought.

Although there are no songs here, the five set pieces evolve dramatically with boldly stated openings, surging middles and emphatic endings. Titles may be odd, surprising, or even arrogantly mystifying, but they encapsulate the meandering nature of the music and bring to life every surprising twist and turn that emerges from the fiery and almost suicidal nature of creativity. Nobody dies, of course, but the musicians risking their lives for each note is symptomatic of the sense of musical death and transfiguration at work here. In the end, it is the music that drives the titles and not the other way around. So, while it is possible to put their own twisted nature aside for a moment, it is important to note that they form an integral part of the music's Absurdist, or even Dadaist nature.

And then there is the fact that this music is played on guitars. These stringed instruments were almost subservient to other stringed instruments, such as the violin, cello and contrabass. The lute became somewhat paramount during the baroque era and was elementally popular among players of English songs, but the guitar really grew in Southern Europe, where human passions and emotions were worn on the billowing sleeves of artists. To translate this to the guitar meant manipulating the taut strings in a manner that had not been heard, pulling them down as notes were plucked; sliding the hand that held the harmonic invention dramatically across the fret board. Naturally, musical repertoire expanded as a result of greater familiarity with the instrument as well as with its grammatical exploitation.

Both Marzan and Russell excel at this. Their mastery of the nature of pure sound is flawless, as they create a wondrous world of music from twisting fingers and a myriad techniques to create the drama and epic nature of this elementally beautiful guitar record.

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